How Marriott's Responsible Sourcing Sets Coffee Criteria
Q&A With Denise Naguib, VP of sustainability and supplier diversity.
Coffee is one of many F&B commodities under scrutiny in recent years for its effect on the environment and the welfare of workers harvesting the beans. Marriott—the largest hotel company in the world with 30 brands and 6,900-plus properties under its umbrella—is acutely aware of the impact it makes as a high-volume purchaser of coffee, and as a result, actively aligns its company principles with producers of responsibly sourced coffee.
We spoke with Denise Naguib, Marriott International’s VP of sustainability and supplier diversity, for details about Marriott’s current coffee guidelines and how they determine which suppliers are considered for the brand’s enormous purchasing program.
Hotel F&B: How would you define responsibly sourced coffee?
Naguib: We look at it holistically from an environmental and social perspective. We feel it’s important to address how the coffee is grown and the impact it has on the environment, as well as ensuring that the people cultivating and harvesting the coffee are treated fairly and that they’re not exposed to chemicals or pesticides. We use those parameters as our definition of responsibly sourced coffee.
Hotel F&B: When did Marriott make responsibly sourced coffee a priority?
Naguib: Our history with it goes back about a decade. We source for a lot of different product categories, so when we have an opportunity to look at the latest trends in each product space, we can drive better decisions around purchasing a product, and do it in a volume that makes sense for us.
For example, at our select-service brands like Fairfield Inn, SpringHill Suites, and TownePlace Suites, we’re sourcing products for all of those brands together. We had an opportunity a while ago to re-evaluate what coffee we were buying, and at that time we were interested in Rainforest Alliance Certified brands. Because we were sourcing on such a grand scale we knew it was important for us to get that labeling for those hotels, so we did. We’ve had a history of evolving the program and then reenergizing it with an updated set of goals.
Hotel F&B: How do the current coffee goals for Marriott fit into the brand’s Serve360 program?
Naguib: Sustainability is part of our Serve360 platform (serve360.marriott.com) and coffee came up as an area of focus, so we identified it as one of our top 10 categories where we’re setting specific commitments to 95% responsible sourcing for those 10 commodities—which are coffee, animal proteins, bottled water, cleaning supplies, cocoa, guestroom amenities, paper products, seafood, sugar, and textiles. Six of those 10 are F&B products.
It’s an important area of focus for us and across the globe that we have alignment to drive toward that goal of 95% responsibly sourced, so we’re working on the next phase which includes engaging our suppliers in a much deeper way to address and respond to a variety of questions that we have on social and environmental areas—and to provide us with their current product lines and also product lines that we may not be sourcing yet, to drive even further into responsible sourcing areas.
We also have a big focus on sourcing locally for our properties because it’s an opportunity to connect from an F&B standpoint, so we’re looking at several coffee co-ops in various markets and many that are run by women in Indonesia and who are selling coffee into our hotels. That touches on multiple areas for us with the actual coffee product, the ethical sourcing of that coffee, and driving support for women around the world.
Hotel F&B: Is responsibly sourced coffee more expensive, like other sustainable, organic, and humanely raised commodities throughout foodservice?
Naguib: There are situations where responsibly sourced coffee is more expensive. But we have opportunities to make commitments on a very broad scale across a large group of hotels where we’re clearly identifying our specification needs. We have a lot more leverage because of the volume we’re buying, so we have opportunities where our hotels may already pay a certain amount for standard coffee, and we can get them responsibly sourced coffee for the same price, so that’s a win-win.
Hotel F&B: How do Marriott’s brands promote responsibly sourced coffee to guests?
Naguib: If you go into our guestrooms where coffee is available, the Rainforest Alliance stamp is clearly labeled on the packages. Also, often on menus, we can communicate those value points by including details of our Serve360 sustainability program or an annual impact report related to our F&B sourcing.
For large meetings, the availability of sustainably sourced coffee can be communicated to meeting planners on the front end, and for breaks or events where coffee is served, there might be signage in front of the coffee indicating a certain brand is Rainforest Alliance Certified or Fair Trade.
Hotel F&B: Are there any metrics that show guests are influenced to book at certain brands that offer responsibly sourced coffee?
Naguib: That’s not a data point that we collect, but we do know from a retail perspective there’s a lot of research showing that people who care about ethical and sustainable practices weigh those elements when they’re making a buying decision. So, maybe somebody purchases coffee for their home, and when they see that same coffee in hotels, that becomes a benefit to staying there, and the hotel is doing something that matches their own values. But we don’t have any guest research that quantifies how often that happens.
Hotel F&B: Some specialty commodities sourced in high-volume, such as organic produce, are sometimes difficult to procure. Does sustainably sourced coffee fall into that category?
Naguib: So far, we’ve been able to get the coffee we need within our sustainably sourced parameters without any shortages. I think coffee growers around the world have been moving toward ensuring their products meet consumer demands on the retail and commercial side. Some of the larger players have made this is a primary area of focus, so they’re able to continue meeting increased market demands and environmental specifications.
For other sustainably sourced items like paper straws, for example, there may be a shortage in the marketplace, but much of that has to do with demand happening so quickly and manufacturers trying to catch up. There was a period of time years ago where coffee started becoming more commercialized, and it went the wrong way from an environmental standpoint, but even then there were a lot of producers doing the right thing. Sustainable coffee has been trending up for several years, so production is generally in line with demand today.
Hotel F&B: What coffee brands does Marriott use that meet its responsibly sourced criteria?
Naguib: There are too many to list, since many of our 30 brands have specific programs with certain coffee suppliers tied to their flags. We source from a variety of producers, ranging from the largest brands to smaller, independent companies, but what connects them all is a focus on long-term sustainability. There are dozens of coffee brands just under the Rainforest Alliance umbrella, for example.
Hotel F&B: What’s next for Marriott’s responsibly sourced coffee program?
Naguib: We’re in the process of looking at contracts, and there will be opportunities for our coffee suppliers to meet our updated guidelines as we evaluate and assess those companies through our responsible sourcing lens, honing in on specific social and environmental criteria. Having a Rainforest Alliance label, for example, is our preferred method for sourcing coffee, but there are other ways coffee growers can show us they’re providing ethically and responsibly sourced products. When these contracts comes up for renewal, that’s definitely the lens we’ll be using to choose our coffee partners.